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Karen Brennan
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“Pressure Valves” help your child prepare for sleep

Monday, March 17, 2014

This week we look at the last section in the chapter on “Rhythm,” which is about “Sleep and Pressure Valves.”  Kim believes, and I agree, that a child’s preparation for sleep begins when he wakes up in the morning.  A healthy rhythm through the day, which includes both activity and pauses helps prepare a child to sleep.  “Falling asleep involves a sort of leap of faith, ‘a letting go’ that requires trust.”  He suggests having “pressure valves,” which he defines as something that lets your child release emotional steam.  Letting off steam during the day makes it easier for a child to let themselves sleep.  Kim gives examples of pressure valves.  Naps or quiet time can be a pressure valve.   An after school snack together or some other ritual can be a pressure valve.  A project a child enjoys can be a pressure valve.  “Any activity a child can ‘lose himself in’ allows for a release of tension, and the mental ease needed to process the day’s events.   Another pressure valve can be lighting a candle before dinner, or a moment of silence. 

If a child is having a hard time at school, one of the first things we look at is whether he is getting enough sleep.  Neural growth and pruning happen during sleep.  We all know that no one is at their best when they are sleep deprived.  It is very important that bedtime be rhythmical.  He suggests having a twenty minute window for bedtime—10 minutes before and 10 minutes after.  Bedtimes that vary greatly, such as very different bedtimes during the week and on the weekend, have the same physiological effects as jet lag.

Bedtime stories can be wonderful pressure valves.  The cares of the day can slip away as children are carried into the world of the story.  Being told a story is relaxing.  Nothing is required of the child as they listen.  “Stories affect the way children learn to narrate their own lives,” affecting the stories they tell themselves.  Kim quotes one of my favorite Einstein quotes: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  But a word of caution before you pull out your book of Grimm’s.  Fairy tales are really more appropriate for children age 3 and up.  And for the 3’s, the simplest fairy tales are the best.  The fairy tales we usually think of, like “Snow White” or “Cinderella” are really more appropriate for first graders.  I have given you a list of suggested fairy tales for different ages from Beyond the Rainbow Bridge by Barbara Patterson.  For those of you reading this online, here is a link to an interesting article by Joah Almon, "Choosing Fairy tales for different ages." For the very little ones, simple nature stories or stories about your day or your own childhood are best.  There are, of course, very lovely books for our little ones.  I would suggest reading only one, or maybe two, at bedtime.  Stories offer security and connection. “Very powerful healing balms, stories give children the strength and the images they need to make sense of their world”  We often forget that children don’t understand facts in the same way we do.  When something difficult is going on in our lives, we want them to understand, so we often give them a detailed explanation. But children don’t process information the same way we do.  “They need simple truths, plainly spoken, especially in response to their own questions.  But children also need containers for the truth, for situations that may be difficult for them to understand…  Stories give young children wings, letting them fly free of the tyranny of facts.”

And so ends the chapter on rhythm—Imagine your family’s days acquiring a sense of order, rhythm and flow.  Has this chapter helped you along the way?  Next week we will begin the chapter on “Schedules”